Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quick Sips: Southern Tier Mokah

Southern Tier, out of Lakewood, NY, are very quietly brewing some of the best beers on the East Coast right now. I expect over the next year or three they'll increasingly become one of the more highly regarded brewers out there. Most of what they do is very good, and much of it is fantastic.

This one is Mokah, a big imperial stout brewed with loads of chocolate and coffee. It's a hefty one, clocking in at 11.2% ABV. Definitely a sipper. (I nursed this bottle over the course of an afternoon.) The chocolate and coffee are strong but not gimmicky, tasting rich and Earthy rather than like cake in a bottle.

Though it's a strong beer, you don't taste that big alcohol content. It drinks very smooth. Delicious dessert beer. Would probably taste nice poured over ice cream or pie, too. I didn't pair it with a cigar, but I expect this would be a perfect match for a dark, musty stick.

Recommended for a nice winter night or after a dinner by candlelight.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Founder's Breakfast Stout: a little slice of Heaven

Founders Brewing Company out of Michigan has over the last few years established themselves as one of America's very best craft breweries, especially of stouts. Difficult to find beers such as their KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) get beer geeks raving, but even their year-round "standard" beers are pretty kick-ass, notably Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale and Centennial IPA.

My favorite, though, is by far their Breakfast Stout, a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout. Yeah, you read that right. It's only available between September and December, tends to disappear from the shelves fairly quick depending on where you live, and is worth spending a few weeks in a war-torn country just to try.

This is a big, tasty stout, though I wondered if it would be when I first poured the glass. The aroma had hints of coffee and roasted chocolate, but neither were overpowering.

The taste, though. Yeah, the taste. While it's true this is like a meal in a glass, the important part is that it's like a delicious meal in a glass. You don't initially taste strong chocolate or coffee; they're just hints in an impressive weave of roasty flavor. They're rich and full and strong, yet they never punch you in the face. The beer is perfectly balanced, tasting like a complex stout with smokey nuances and a smoothness (probably brought on by the chocolate) that belies its bitterness. Very impressive. Hyped beers often don't live up to the hype. This one does.

The bottom line is, this is a stupidly good stout that really would make a great breakfast if it weren't for the alcohol. It offers a strong and complex yet not overpowering taste. None of the boasted flavors (chocolate, coffee, oatmeal) are so prominent that they scream "look at me," instead mixing into a pleasing and heady beverage.

Believe the hype.

Founder's Breakfast Stout should be hitting stores in a few weeks.

(2013 edit: The last year years,Founder's Breakfast Stout has changed a bit, with the coffee being much more out front, at times being the dominant flavor. Still delicious, but certainly a bit different.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Creating a Christmas beer for the ages

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What do you suppose the above has to do with brewing a Christmas beer? Let me tell you.

Seasonal beers and Christmas beers in particular are an annual traditional in the world of good beer. Better breweries put out seasonal beers a few times a year, and Christmas beers are a major part of that.

With that in mind, I set out to make a beer for the holiday season. Something to drink and enjoy when the weather is cold, holly hangs from the eaves, and pumpkin pie tastes best. I also wanted something that would LAST. Something that could be enjoyed both this holiday season and next holiday season ... and the one after that, and maybe the one after that.

I settled on a Belgian dark style, which, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I love.

The base of my recipe was the Raisonette Trappist (PDF warning) recipe courtesy of Brewer's Apprentice in New Jersey. It's based on Raison D'Etre by Dogfish Head.

I added a small amount of brown sugar to slightly boost the alcohol content, then added cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to the mix to give it some winter spicing. The beer fermented for one month, then I let it mature for another month in a big glass vessel ... cleverly disguised so Mr. Eric would let me keep it in the living room:

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This process started in June. Yes, I was planning out my Christmas beer that far in advance.

So, after two months of letting this big bastard age, it came time to get it into bottles. The first goal was to get it into something special. If it's going to be a long-term beer, after all, why not make sure the bottles are long-term, too? So, I bought some gorgeous bottles that will help say, "This is a special beer."

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Cool bottles, and the sort of thing that will look great when you break 'em out at the holidays -- which is the point. But out of the five gallons typical with a homebrew batch, I only put three gallons into bottles. The other two gallons became the subject of a pair of beer experiments. Those experiments started like this:

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Golden raisins to your left, sour cherries to your right, plus a little bit of oak for good measure. (The oak is meant to simulate aging in an oak barrel.)

I racked one gallon of this Belgian dark onto 6 oz of golden raisins. I can't imagine how that will turn out, since the Dogfish Head "Extreme Brewing" book recommends that amount for a full batch! The other gallon was racked onto 6 oz of tart cherries. Both got doses of nutmeg and cinnamon again, too.

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However they turn out, I'm excited about the possibilities. They could each be very offbeat, very special, very delicious beers. Or both variations could turn out horrible. It's possible, but hey, they're experiments. And isn't being creative part of why we home brew in the first place?